The first half of the Musketeers of Pig Alley shows off some of Griffith's most finely crafted shot compositions. Working with several increasingly complex crowd scenes, he manages to keep each one unique, and continually draws our eyes to the most important part of the action, in spite of the degree of complexity. He daringly puts bits of business at the very edges of the frame – a puff of smoke stylishly announces the arrival of Elmer Booth, and later the barman offers a backhander from off-screen. Griffith even works in a joke on his own sense of formal symmetry when, in one street scene Lillian meets her sister Dorothy coming the way. As the two women pass each other, they pause, throw each other a quick glance, then carry on.
In the second half, we see what is arguably the finest use of parallel editing in all of Griffith's Biograph career. As with shot composition, the action climax here is laced with symmetry. Rather than a nail-biting ride-to-the-rescue, this is a tense clash between two opposing forces. Griffith matches up shots of the two rivals gangs as they seek each other out, gradually building up the tension before releasing it in a lightning-fast gunfight. It looks incredibly simple, yet it's so effective. This is the ancestor of John Ford's Western shoot-outs, and Sergio Leone's Mexican standoffs.
The acting is top-notch throughout, and only a few sparse intertitles are used to help the plot along. Gish proves herself adept at the slow, subtle style that was by now the standard at Biograph. Elmer Booth, who had floated around Biograph for a number of years making little impression, at last hits his stride here with a role that is perfect for him. In one memorable close-up during the build up to the shoot-out, he acts brilliantly with his face, looking menacing but also conveying a hint of fear. He also gives a great comic turn in the final scene. Had he not died a few years later he could have been a kind of James Cagney of the silent era – he has that same mean-faced gangster look.
If there is one weakness in The Musketeers of Pig Alley it is that Griffith sometimes actually seems to expect too much of his audience. There is a lot to take in, and some of the plot points are conveyed extremely subtly. Still, it has a terrific impact even on a first viewing, and remains one of the most ageless of all Griffith's pictures.